San Francisco and 2013 America’s Cup

Hanging out in San Francisco was a great experience.  We loved it on our last visit, so we were looking forward to checking it out again.

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This time round we had 2 bases from which to enjoy it: Dolly’s apartment in the trendy Piedmont St., Oakland that we booked through Airbnb and later a great location in Benicia, where my cousin Diana and second cousin April live.

 

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The timing of our arrival in San Francisco could not have been better.  The 2013 America’s Cup between the USA and New Zealand was in full swing, so lots of extra tourists were in town.  The weather was pleasant too.

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights of our visit included:

  • Meals, a party and sightseeing with Diana and April
  • more meals and sightseeing with second cousin Paul, his wife Maria and their son Tristan
  • The amazing Mission District with its old Spanish influence, bright murals & an eclectic mix of people

 

  • Mission District

    Mission District

 

 

 

 

  • an Oakland A’s baseball game with Paul, Maria and Tristan at the Coliseum.  The A’s won at the bottom of the 9th!
  • a trip to Alcatraz Island to check out the famous prison that housed Al Capone, the Birdman and other notorious criminals

 

 

 

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Carly in Alcatraz

Carly in Alcatraz

 

  • a looong walk along the San Francisco Bay shore, across the Golden Gate Bridge and on to Sausolito.  Total distance about a half marathon!
  • Chinatown during the Full Moon Festival: lots of colour and activity

 

Riding the Cable Cars

Riding the Cable Cars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • View from the Cable Car

    View from the Cable Car

    Cable car riding and Lombard St, ‘the crookedest street in the world’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Wandering around the piers and the mall
  • Just ‘hanging out’ in San Francisco
  • Lombard St. - The crookedist street in the world.

    Lombard St. – The crookedist street in the world.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ultimate highlight of our time in San Francisco was being able to watch the 2013 America’s Cup racing on San Francisco Bay. Banners, flags and advertising posters were all over town.  This is possibly the only time in history that you could easily watch the races from the shore!  To our great surprise, we discovered that we were able to watch the action free of charge.  Many spectators had shelled out exorbitant amounts to see the racing, but as usual in these situations, cheaper options are always available.

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We avoided paying for the advertised tickets on line and decided to just try our luck and see if we could get close enough for a glimpse.  Imagine our surprise when we bussed down to the bay and discovered there was a free grandstand right next to the shore, alongside some expensive grandstands with identical views.  There was even a giant screen nearby, featuring live action and commentary.

We chatted with sailing fans from all over the world and watched some unbelievable yachting action.  Being rookies, a few basics of the racing were explained to us.  With wind speeds close to the allowed maximum, the giant catamarans were almost flying.  They were literally out of the water, balancing on their foils.

 

New Zealand was leading the best of 17 race series 6-0, following a 2-race penalty imposed on the US team for ‘cheating’ in the preliminary races.  This meant that New Zealand was only 3 races away from victory.  The USA sailed well to win the first race of the day by 800 yards.  The 2nd race was very exciting!  There were a number of lead changes throughout the race.  At times it looked like the boats would collide as they approached from different tacks.  But New Zealand snatched the lead by a whisker and held on to win the race by 17 seconds.  In the newspaper the next day, they were suggesting it may have been the most exciting race in America’s Cup history!

 

PS.  Unbelievably, the USA team, skippered by Aussie Jimmy Spithill, lost the next race but still came back from an 8-1 deficit to win the series 9-8 and hold on to the America’s Cup!  Incredible.

PPS.  Australian Robert Oatley, of Wild Oats and Hamilton Island fame, has already challenged for the next cup!

Road Trip From LA to San Francisco

Hot on the heels of our Route 66 experience, we decided to do a road trip from LA to San Francisco, along the coast in a hire car. Our younger daughter Carly had joined us and we were in high spirits.  We took it nice and slow, following Highway 1 as much as possible to take in all the great coastal views.

Richard & Jane's home

Richard & Jane’s home

 

Day 1:  We called in to see our friends Jane and Richard in beautiful Santa Barbara (see previous report.)  We had breakfast at a cafe on the beach and even found the crazy hippy kombi  again for Carly to see.

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From there, we made a number of little stops and detours along the way, including the Channel Islands with its lovely harbor, Los Olivos and Los Alamos.  Los Olivos is a quaint little town with lots of  wine tasting and interesting vineyards.

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In Los Alamos we even happened upon the historic hotel, the 1880 Union Hotel, where Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson recorded ‘Say Say Say.’   While we enjoyed a refreshing ale and toured the property, our host even showed us the video.  We spent the night in Santa Maria.

 

 

 

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Day 2:  Again we hugged the coast as much as possible.  We called in to Pismo Beach and saw many of the coastal beaches with surfers showing their skills. Hereford was another stop and then the famous Madonna Hotel.  This hotel is amazing!   Well worth a visit for its crazy themed rooms, over the top 50′s décor and interesting toilets!

 

 

 

 

Bubble Gum Alley

Bubble Gum Alley

 

We also stopped in San Luis Obispo (Famous for its ‘Bubble Gum Alley’ – YUK!) and Cambria, before staying the night in San Simeon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 3:  After breakfast we headed for the famous Hearst Castle.  This place is a must-see for anyone travelling up the west coast of America.  There are various extra tours you can do, but the basic tour is more than enough.  It includes a shuttle up to the castle, a tour with a guide and a movie.  After the tour we were free to wander around the grounds.  What an amazing place!  Millions of dollars were spent over many years and it had lots of world-famous visitors from many fields, including presidents and Charlie Chaplin.  Google it!

 

DSC04795The rest of the day we checked out a nearby colony of elephant seals, which was also fun.

 

 

 

Day 4:  Another look at the elephant seals (lazy & fish-filled ) and we headed further north.  More beaches, more surfers, more crops (the Yanks have stuff growing everywhere!), more small coastal towns.  The major place we spent time in was the town of Carmel.  It’s a very touristy town with narrow streets and little parking, which must be a nightmare in the middle of summer.  We also called in for a squizz around Monterey, a fairly large metropolis.  Spent the night in Santa Cruz, which is a town frozen in time.  It has a huge fun park by the beach but being a week day the place was closed.  So we missed out on all the old-style roller-coasters, but we did get to see all the 60’s style residences, hotels and motels, one of which we spent the night in.

DSC04809Day 5:  This was the final day of our coastal road trip.  We meandered up the coast for a while to check out a few of the surf beaches and some roadside stalls.  Then we returned through Santa Cruz and headed towards Oakland on the opposite side of the bay from San Francisco.  We did a stunning scenic drive which took us through the ‘Big Basin Redwoods National Park.’  Some of the trees in the park were absolutely huge!  The road was carved through the massive redwood trees and was only wide enough for one car in many places.  It was stunning!  When we finally emerged from the forests, we stopped for a coffee in a quaint little town.

We then completed our final leg into Oakland, making one wrong turn which had us heading across the newly completed Oakland Bay Bridge. However we had amazing views.  A $6 toll and a U-turn half-way across on Treasure Island soon had us arriving at our final destination, Dolli’s apartment on Piedmont Street, Oakland in the heart of the action. We booked this through Air B & B. The owners rented us their cool apartment complete with all their possessions and used the money they received for a trip to China.

Californian Beaches

After Riverside, we spent some time hanging out in California, including some Californian beaches.

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As the Beach Boys sang –  ”Lets go surfing now, everybody’s learning how, come on and safari with me…”

 

 

 

 

DSC03943Long Beach:  We spent 3 great days with Melinda and Jeff, two friends from the Carnival Splendor.  They live in a great area where house prices have gone up a lot because of its proximity to LA and of course the beach.  As is the case with many of the beach areas, a lot of the 50′s, 60’s and 70’s architecture has been preserved.  You also see many cool cars from that era.                              eg. Jeff owned an original Woody from the 1950′s and a Kombi. Strict building regulations play a part in this.

Long beach is massive and has a bike track, volleyball courts, kite surfing & cafes. There is the port where the cruise ships leave from and  where the historic Queen Mary is mored.

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Naples area, with its wonderful canals, is particularly stunning.  It’s a pleasing area to wander around, checking out the homes, kayakers and people on stand-up paddle boards.  We were also able to hear the Long Beach Municipal Band playing swing music in a local park and get a sense of Long Beach’s ‘community’ feel.

 

 

 

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Redondo Beach: One of the highlights of Redondo is its great pier. In spite of a greater risk of storm damage, beach piers in America have shops and restaurants built on them.  We enjoyed hearing a couple of bands at the end of the pier (Thursdays and Saturdays) including a brilliant Woodstock cover band.  Long walks along the beach in excellent weather were fun too.  Plenty of seafood was on sale, on and near the pier and there were lots of restaurants and pubs to tempt visitors and residents.

 

Santa Monica: Judging by the crowds, Santa Monica has to be the most popular of the California beaches for hanging out.  My niece Summer lives here.  The immense beach car park is filled to overflowing.  The pier is the centre point of all activities and a steady stream of people flows along it from dawn to dusk.  There is a famous carousel, shops, stalls, restaurants, people from all over the world and junk food in abundance.  There is also a thriving downtown area.  It is also claims to be the very end of Route 66, which comes all the way from Chicago (see separate report.)

Marina del Rey:  We spent a week in a great apartment that we booked through Airbnb.  Airbnb is an excellent site to book accommodation, especially if hotels are more expensive in an area, or you are planning on staying more than a few days.  Our apartment was in a top location, near to the marina and all its features, and also close to Venice Beach.  We hired bikes one day and rode along the coast as far as Malibu, home of the rich and famous. Highly recommended!  The pool and jacuzzi where we stayed were fun too.

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Venice Beach:  Venice Beach is world famous.  It epitomizes the extremes of American culture. There are stalls, shops, cafes, bars, buskers, exhibitionists and panhandlers all along the boardwalk.  It stretches for miles and you can combine your daily exercise with some excellent people watching.

 

 

DSC03841There is a strange mix of all kinds of people.

Muscle Beach can be found at Venice.  This too is well known and you can gawk at the guys and gals working out.  We even saw Lou Ferrigno, aka The Incredible Hulk, at a body building show.  There is a skateboard/BMX park where you can check out some very talented locals showing off their skills.  On Sunday nights, the ‘drum circle’ on the beach plays until dark and is a must see.

 

 

DSC04278Santa Barbara:  A couple of hours up the coast is the amazing city of Santa Barbara.  Real estate prices are very high because it is such a highly sought after area.  We stayed with our friends Richard and Jane from the South America cruise, who showed us why it’s such a desirable place.  It has a nice ambience and is a good size after the vastness of LA.  A pristine beach, pleasant climate year round, huge selection of cafes, restaurants, interesting shops, a marina and an historic Spanish Mission all contribute to its popularity among tourists and locals.


 

Riverside, Palm Springs, Beaches, Bear Lake etc.

Cousin Blythe's apartment - Riverside CA

Cousin Blythe’s apartment – Riverside CA

 

 

After the thrills and spills of Las Vegas, it was time to get back to the ‘real world.’  And what better place to experience it than in the city of Riverside, California.

 

 

 

 

 

Cousin Blythe

Cousin Blythe

 

 

Any tour of the United States should include a trip to Riverside, because that’s where my cousin Blythe currently lives.  It’s at the centre of everything!  Even if you catch the bus from Vegas to LA, the bus stops at Riverside.  Megabus, 11 bucks!  As Elvis said, “Thank you very much!”

From Riverside, you are well placed to go to LA, San Diego, LAX, the deserts, the beaches, the mountains, the lakes, whatever.

 

As it turned out, Blythe was heading off to Hawaii for a holiday, so we were able to house-sit and use his car while he was away.  But we also spent some time with him before and after his trip.

My first introduction to the LA freeway system was driving back home from LAX.  This is where the phrase ‘baptism of fire’ was created.  Six lanes of speeding traffic, lane changes and truck sandwiches followed.  At least his car was big and solid and we had a GPS system on board!

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Another cousin Jodie & her husband Dana gave us a grand tour of the beaches between Laguna Beach & San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

 

Hot! Hot! Hot!

The desert town of Palm Springs was somewhere we had always wanted to see.

We started by buying a map of the STARS homes and doing a driving tour which was fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Street Market - Palm Springs

Street Market – Palm Springs

 

The night street market in Palm Springs was the place to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights of our stay included:

  • Wandering around the neighbourhood
  • Wines at the Mission Inn
  • Lunch with Jodie & Dana at The Lavender Farm
  • Dinner at Romano’s
  • A day at the beaches (Laguna, Crystal Cove) with Jodi and Dana
  • Catching up with Auntie Joan
  • Visiting some display homes: amazing value
  • A day at Bear Lake, elevation 8000 feet and beautiful countryside
  • Valley View Casino on a free day trip
  • Wandering around Riverside
  • hanging out by the pool
  • Checking out the local shopping centre
  • Having a ‘home’ for a change: thanks Blythe!
  • Cousin Jodie & Dana at The Lavender Farm

    Cousin Jodie & Dana at The Lavender Farm

 

 

 

Route 66

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You’ll get your kicks on Route 66.

When I was a boy, if you wanted to do a road trip across America, the road to take was Route 66.  Also known as ‘the Mother Road,’ it started in Chicago, cut a path across America and then ended in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately the massive US freeway system has taken over most of the route, but large sections of it still remain and many towns have put in a lot of effort to maintain its spirit.

 

 

So what you need to do is take a few detours off the freeways and visit some of the towns that Route 66 passed/passes through.  There is a huge range of memorabilia for tourists to buy, as well as lots of displays and iconic images from the days when Route 66 was the only way to travel west.

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Give or take a couple of flights (New Orleans to Denver and Denver to Las Vegas), to avoid the Oklahoma tornadoes, Jenny and I have basically taken a road trip across America from east to west.  In our case we travelled from New York to Los Angeles.  But we did get a taste of the Route!

 

 

 

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On our way back from the Grand Canyon, we stayed a night in a town called Williams.  This is one of the towns that used to be a part of the Mother Road.  They have gone to a lot of trouble giving the town a real ‘Route 66’ feel.  Lots of window displays pay tribute to Route 66.  You can wander up and down the street and be taken back in time.

 

 

 

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We ate at a great little Route 66 restaurant called ‘Cruisers,’ which also doubles as a souvenir shop.  The restaurant was decorated with all kinds of photos, signs and symbols and the food was good too.

 

 

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Carly & Jon at Santa Monica Pier

Carly & Jon at Santa Monica Pier

 

 

The very end of Route 66 is at the Santa Monica pier.  This is where it finally arrives on the west coast! It truly is the end of the road, because the pier ends a hundred metres out in the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So hop on your Harley or into your Corvette, Cadillac or Woodie and do yourself a favour.  Take a road trip on Route 66.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

Grand Canyon

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Our visit to the Grand Canyon had been a long time coming.  We originally booked a flight over the canyon way back in the Christmas holidays of 1978.  Our flight was cancelled due to snow, so we had to wait another 35 years to see it.  But it was worth the wait!

 

 

This time round we hired a car instead of a plane. We drove out to the south rim, which is praised for offering the best views.  Once we were inside the national park, we were able to park the car and use the free shuttle services that take you around to the main viewpoints.

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The views were breath-taking.  A picture paints a thousand words so I’ll let them tell the tale…..

 

 

 

 

 

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There is a great visitor centre that you can check out.  It has a panoramic window view that would rival any view in the world.  There is also has an interesting photography studio set up precariously on the canyon edge many decades ago.

We saw an Imax presentation about the Grand Canyon which was very enjoyable.  It showed an outstanding re-enactment of some early explorers barreling down the Colorado River (which of course was responsible for carving out the canyon) in bulky wooden canoes.  Scary stuff!

 

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The Grand Canyon has to be seen to be believed and should be high on anyone’s list if you are planning a visit to the USA.

Viva Las Vegas

WSOP

WSOP

 

After the great OUTDOORS of Colorado.. wow… it was time for the great INDOORS of Las Vegas.

Summer is poker season in Las Vegas and the city is flooded with all these people who dream of becoming the poker champion of the world.  Including me.  It’s 100 degrees F every day, but very dry heat.  Still, you don’t want to be out in it, unless you are near a pool.  They had a heat wave at one stage where the maximum was around 115 for the whole week!

 

 

Pools at Rio Casino

Pools at Rio Casino

 

The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is held at the Rio, which is off the strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) but is so big that some people never venture out of it while the poker action is on.  Jenny and I did of course because there is far more to life than poker ! And besides, the room-rates go up so much at The Rio on the weekends that it’s too expensive to stay there.  So we spread ourselves around the various casinos, picking up the best bargains on offer.  And there are certainly lots of cheap rooms! Not wanting to be outdone by the Rio, many of the other casinos have their own poker tournament series and cash games as well, so we were never short of some action, be it at the Venetian, the Golden Nugget, Binions, Caesars, the Aria, or wherever.

 

 

 

One of the 3 stages - Fremont St.

One of the 3 stages – Fremont St.

 

Altogether we stayed in 6 different hotels during our time in Vegas, giving us a different insight at each new place. For example at the amazing Fremont St you would see people from all over the world, rich or poor dancing with the street kids & homeless and having the time of their lives. We were particularly taken by the cute Mexican, 3 year old break dancer, who had all the attitude of a polished performer  with head spins included. He earned his parents a lot more $$ than they’d make on the slots.

 

 

 

 

'The Legends of Rock' Show

‘The Legends of Rock’ Show

 

There are plenty of attractions around town.  There are heaps of fantastic shows to choose from.  Restaurants for all price ranges.  Buffets galore.  Free slot play, although this is much harder to find compared to our last visit.  Swimming pools, gymnasiums, shops, museums.  Water shows at The Bellagio.  Volcanic eruptions at The Mirage.  Carnevale type performances  and gondolas at The Venetian.  Circus acts at Circus Circus and a roller coaster at New York New York.  Buskers everywhere.  And every casino is its own little world, where you can people watch, shop, window shop, enjoy a coffee or a drink. As long as you avoid the slot machines and watch where you eat and drink, it can be great value.

 

 

 

Bellagio Casino fountains

Bellagio Casino fountains

 

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Fun on The Strip

Fun on The Strip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegas attracts huge crowds, particularly on weekends, when the Americans all fly or drive in to spend some money.  Our favourite area was Fremont Street, the lively downtown Las Vegas mall.  It’s covered by a gigantic canopy which doubles as the world’s largest movie screen.  There are stages with rock bands, dance music, every conceivable cartoon dress-up dude and four ziplines right down the centre!  Every hour, on the hour, from 8pm until 2 am, they project a 10 minute colourful rock show onto the screen, eg, Queen or Bon Jovi.  It also has the most interesting collection of people that you would find anywhere in the world.  Buskers, dancers, exhibitionists, homeless, tourists, sales people and so on.  They are a sight to behold.

Where we stayed in Fremont St.

Where we stayed in Fremont St.

 

A few of the highlights and memorable sights/events of our stay :

* playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event (see separate blog)

* winning $2500 in a $125 poker tournament

* seeing ‘Love,’ the Beatles Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage.  This was one of eight in Vegas we could have chosen!

* winning $750 from a single free $5 slot play we were given at The Golden Nugget

* seeing the ‘Legends of Las Vegas’ show at The Flamingo (Elvis, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Rod Stewart)

* the buffets and restaurants

* hanging out by the pool, especially at the Golden Nugget, where they have an enormous aquarium full of sharks and other fish and the water-slide actually passes through the middle of it!

 

 

* playing cash poker games with people from all over the world, along with all the table banter!

Overhead movie screen - Fremont Mall

Overhead movie screen – Fremont Mall

* hanging out at the Venetian amongst gondolas and opera singers

* free drinks while I play and free food when I am done

And now for some poker highlights……….

* I had a fullhouse on the turn but was beaten by a runner runner straight flush on the river…. straight out of a tournament!

* I beat QQQ44 with 4444Q….big cash

* There was an African-American guy at our table who did the ‘Skanky Leg’ dance whenever he won a hand.  When he was successful with a bluff he would throw down his weak cards and cry out, “Stole one!  Stole one!  Like a runaway slave!”  He had everyone in fits.

* My KKKQQ could only be beaten by one possible hand, a Royal Flush, and it was!  Plus he got a $505 bonus for the Royal.

 

'Hangover 3'

‘Hangover 3′

* My 89 beat AA when I flopped a straight!

*My KQ beat a KJ and a K10 to win a $300 000 pot in a tournament.  (This was the one I came 3rd in.)  If only it was real money!

* I played 66 and flopped 6666 so the AAQQ guy couldn’t put me on a 6

* My 888 72 busted AA 872 brick brick

* My QQQQ beat AAA for a monster pot

Win, lose or draw it has all been a lot of fun and I’ve heard enough poker stories to fill yet another book.  One story that a dealer told me:  one of the household poker names won $85 000 in a poker tournament but then managed to lose it all within an hour playing Craps!  Dumb.

As Elvis once said, “Viva Las Vegas!”

 

 

 

 

 

World Series of Poker Main Event 2013

Arriving at The Rio Casino for WSOP - Day 1

 

 

 

Well I finally did it!  I played in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker (WSOP.)  And what a great experience it was!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had been a dream of mine for many years and it finally came true.  Although I didn’t win it, I felt I got my money’s worth from the moment I entered, simply because it’s a world championship event and can never be taken from me.  In how many other endeavours could you compete in a world championship?  Golf? Baseball?  Basketball?  Chess?  Even Scrabble?  No, the only activity a guy like me can compete in, on the world stage, side by side with world champions, is poker!  I am soooo glad I did it.

 

And I was in with a chance of making it into the money, perhaps deep into the money.  Out of some 6300 entrants, I made it to the last 1500, well into Day 3.  Many of the great players in World Poker, including world champions, multi-millionaires and household names in poker, were eliminated before me.  Moneymaker, Hachem, Heinz, Esfandieri, Cada, Raymer, Neagranu, Cloutier, the list went on!

Jon, Joe Hachem & a dealer

 

Highlights for me included:

* mixing with the rich and famous

* meeting Joe Hachem, Greg Raymer and Doyle Brunson

* surviving Day 1

* surviving Day 2

 

 

 

Greg Raymer - former World Champ

 

 

 

* playing side by side with Michael ‘the Grinder’ Mizrachi for approximately 10 hours on Day 2, when he was the tournament chip-leader

* pulling off 3 massive bluffs at appropriate times and never once being caught bluffing, including one for my tournament life

* milking a big pot with 6666 and doubling my chip stack

* making a huge call on a dangerous board for my tournament life, when a guy tried to bully me out by putting me allin

 

 

 

Daniel Neagranu

 

 

I feel that I made only a couple of minor mistakes in 28 hours of poker in the tournament.  One was in not re-raising an ‘all-in’ pot to isolate the Grinder, and therefore allowing him to win a big pot.  The other was making a ‘hero call’ for a big bet, when I should have realised I was behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Antonio Esfandiari

 

 

And the end of my tournament?  I was sitting on approximately 35 000 chips (about 30 Big Blinds) on Day 3, at a new table.  Blinds were 600/1200.  A guy raised to 3000.  With QQ, the third best hand in poker, I re-raised to 11 000.  Everybody else folded and then the original raiser re-raised all-in!!  He obviously hoped I was playing A-K or A-Q and would have to fold.  I called!  The guy immediately said, “You got me!” and turned over 9-9.  He had only 2 outs!  The cards played out as follows: brick, brick, brick, brick, 9!  The whole table could not believe it.  A terrible bad beat had brought my tournament to an end.

 

 

 

Doyle Brunson - the godfather of poker

 

 

If I had won that pot I would have been sitting on approximately 80 000 chips.  With my TAG (tight aggressive) style, this would probably have carried me through to the money and who knows how much further!?  In fact one guy who started Day 3 with the same number of chips as me, became Chips Leader for the entire tournament late on Day 3.  You just need to have a bit of a run of cards and play them right.

Still, it was a FANTASTIC experience.

 

 

 

Some observations:

* I now feel I could happily play Texas Holdem No Limit Poker against any player, any time, for any stakes.  (I wouldn’t though.)

* The general quality of players in the WSOP Main Event is (surprisingly!) no better than you find in much cheaper tournaments

* If you can find a way to play in this event, do yourself a favour and do it

Feel free to contact me for further tips.

 

 

 

 

Colorado… Rocky Mountain High

Wow what a spectacular part of the world!

Our main reason for visiting was to see where our eldest daughter Kirsty had spent a very happy year of her life.

She was lucky enough to go on a Rotary School Exchange. We were excited to meet her friends & host families in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

Bob & Wendy Moore

Trish & Scotty Kramer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We flew into Denver, Colorado’s capital and Mile High City, from New Orleans.  This was the first section we hadn’t covered by road, because of the approaching tornadoes I mentioned in the previous post.  Probably a good thing too, because it cut 24 hours off our travel time and possibly prevented the tornado from picking us up and dumping us elsewhere, as happened to a few storm-chasers, who ‘died doing what they loved!’  Not my choice of how to end my life.

The Rocky Mountains, we both agreed, would be right up there with any scenery we have seen, anywhere in the world.  Simply stunning.  Majestic peaks, green valleys, dense forests, amazing canyons, snow-capped mountains, crystal clear white water streams, it has it all.

Memorial Day Parade - Denver, Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denver was a great city to spend a few days in.  We were lucky enough to snap up an incredible Memorial Day weekend bargain at the Hyatt Regency, which was only one block off the 16th Street Mall.  Being Memorial Day weekend there was a fantastic free rock festival going on called ‘Denver Rocks.’  It featured 25 bands playing on 5 stages and was lots of fun.

 

There was also an Art Exhibition going on concurrently, with various artists featuring their work in lots of small marquees just off the mall.  Some nice stuff.  The city provides free shuttle buses and there are lots of pianos dotted along the mall as well.  People are encouraged to play them at any time.  Lots of people do and some of them are very talented!

Free piano in Denver Mall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, May 25th was the Memorial Day Parade.  We rose earlier than usual to appreciate our complimentary buffet breakfast before venturing out to gain a good vantage point.  Prime positions were there for the taking along the route.  It was a great parade, with the typical red, white and blue American patriotism on display!  The armed forces were all there.  But the highlights for us were the Harleys, Corvettes, old Fords and all the El Jebel extras that were featured in the parade.  The parade ended in front of the congress building, where we were treated to a protest against the use of pesticides and genetically engineered foods.

And our value meal in Denver?  Taco Bell was selling a burrito, a taco, a wrap and a large drink for $5.49  Hard to beat that!

From Denver we tried another form of transport…. train!  And we would recommend this trip to anyone:  Denver to Glenwood Springs.  Although it takes five and a half hours, plus delays, the scenery is just amazing and the cost is virtually the same as a bus.  While we took it as basically just a ‘train trip,’ there was a big group on the same train travelling on ‘Great Train Journeys of the World!’  And we saw why.   As you wind your way through the mountains and canyons, including a number of tunnels, the scenery is spectacular.  I think we had picked the perfect time, Spring coming into Summer, because everything was unbelievably green.  Highly recommended!  Being mooned by a number of rafters on the river as we passed by was an unexpected bonus.  Hash House Harriers perhaps?!

Train journey through Rocky Mtns.

Mt Sopris - which Kirsty loves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Wendy & Jesse at the Diner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Glenwood Springs we were looked after magnificently by two of Kirsty’s host couples from her High School Exchange in Carbondale: the Moores and the Kramers.  We received the royal treatment from both couples and were given a great taste of the whole district.  This included:  Aspen, playground of the rich and famous, Glenwood Springs, a BBQ, local restaurants and pubs, Maroon Bells, (a brilliant national park), the local diner and a magnificent fun park right up on top of a mountain.  Thanks to free tickets from the owner, a Rotarian friend of Scotty’s we spent a fabulous day at ‘Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.’

There we rode the roller-coasters, zip-lined, watched 4D movies, visited the caves and were catapulted out over the edge of the mountain strapped into a giant swing.  Scary!

We also attended two local Rotary clubs that had hosted  Kirsty.  There we met our first US senator and many of the people who had looked after Kirsty.

Jon & me flying out over the valley - Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

 

 

 

Great times: thanks to our hosts, Bob and Wendy Moore and Trish and Scott Kramer.

New Orleans…. the big easy

 

 

Wow, what an exciting city!

The city of New Orleans has always appealed to us and we couldn’t wait to soak up the great atmosphere.  Famous for its music, food, history, the Mississippi River and its great vibe.

Our original plan was to stay at Harrah’s Casino, because across America you can always seem to get luxury rooms at very low prices in casinos, but Harrah’s in New Orleans is an exception.  They are the only casino in the heart of town so they don’t have to offer any deals!  So we stayed at a nice hotel around the corner called The Ambassador.

We both enjoyed New Orleans so much that we just stayed on and on and on!  Our final ‘on’ was because the weather experts were tipping tornadoes in Oklahoma, which we would need to pass through to get to Colorado.  An easy decision!

 

 

There seemed to be a greater number of homeless around the place.  I guess the warm weather, atmosphere and music provide comfort for people with not much else in their lives.  Many pretend to be artists, musicians or fortune tellers.  Others cut straight to the chase with signs like “Money needed for weed!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our highlights in New Orleans included:

  • Meeting the Dalai Lama at the Convention Centre!  (It always pays to check the local newspapers for what’s on in town!)
  • The Garden District, with its nice feel, trendy shops and big old stately homes
  • The food!  Cajun flavours, seafood, beignets, variety and value for money
  • Bourbon Street, sleazy but worth a visit
  • The River Walk, new shops, eateries and attractively presented (but lacking customers)
  • A Mississippi River cruise, including some more Civil War historical sites

 

 

 

 

 

  • Mardi Gras Museum

  • The Mardi Gras Museum, full of great floats from the annual parade
  • The French Quarter, including the markets
  • Frenchmen Street after dark, for fabulous music
  • Artists and buskers and souvenir sales all over the place
  • The World War II Museum, lots of great displays

New Orleans is a fabulous city and should be near the top of any visitor’s list.  We just loved it.  And again we found that staying near ‘the guts’ adds a lot to any visit.

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